The first Adidas ads I did looked like this:
Loud, aggressive and very yellow.
I wasn’t a big fan of the look that had been created at the time, I felt it killed the images and came over like Nike, only less sophisticated.
(To be fair, they stand up surprisingly well today.)
I got the chance to break away from this style to create a new one with some running ads Tim Delaney had written.
It also helped that he’d written ads that were tonally very different from the previous work, instead of the testosterone-fueled attitude and swagger we’d all got used to writing, he’d written much more introspective lines, essentially runners’ thoughts on running.
Whereas the brash ads were fine for sports like football or even tennis, it didn’t fit sports that were more introspective, like running.
As a runner, I’d always thought that Wieden Kennedy Portland’s ads really “got” runners.
Like the one below, probably my favourite running image, shot by Joel Meyerowitz.(http://www.pinterest.com/davedye/joel-meyerowitz/)
I love this ad.
I love its quiet power.
I love that it’s got a tiny little runner, dwarfed by sky scrapers, but your eye goes straight to him.
I love the idea of celebrating the anonymous hero who puts in the miles day in day out. That is running.
I love that the runner is a silhouette, he’s unrecognisable so you put yourself in his shoes.
I thought our running ads could feel more sensitive, it would fit these new, more sensitive lines that Tim had written.
Tim’s mantra at the time was that we needed thoughts that runners would recognise.
My writer at the time, Tony Barry, put it like this: “Tim wants lines that are good for runners and bad for your book.”
I tried to make them look 180 degrees the opposite of what Nike were doing at the time: an old-fashioned typeface – Baskerville, pastel colours and a delicate structure.
I had three ideas for a layout:
1. Put the headlines over the heads.
2. Use montages to suggest the runners are thinking.
3. Brand the layouts with three lines of copy, echoing the famous three stripes logo.
1. Headlines on heads were fine if the head was big, but you don’t want to restrict yourself to a ‘heads’ campaign.
2. The montages worked well on faces, but not on actual running shots, and the Douglas Brothers had shot some great running images.
3. The three lines of copy idea didn’t come through. I added three bars to make it more obvious.
I didn’t want the layout to be a fixed grid, I still wanted the thoughts to relate to the runner.
So it was a layout based on two sliding scales: headlines could slide along horizontally and the block could slide up or down according to the position of the runner.
These two didn’t run.
I did the next batch with the writer Dave Hieatt, of Howies, Hiut Denim and Do Lectures fame.
When Dave left, I wrote a couple myself.
They didn’t end up running.
And then I had an idea for a one that was personal, not a word play, a clever headline, not really a headline, just relaying what I went through with my mate Mike McKenna.
We’d run around Regents Park at lunchtime whilst at Publicis and drag ourselves around by agreeing we’d stop when we got to the gate. When we got to the gate we’d say we’ll stop when we got to hut, we’d fool ourselves to get around.
I showed Tim: “No…I don’t think runners do that.”
To be fair, he probably saw fifty ideas a day and look at the state of the rough I showed him:
We always showed the roughest, scuzziest of scamps at Leagas, it was almost showing respect – like we’re not going to try and fool you with fancy drawing and neat writing, we all know an idea when we see one”.
I did some more ideas and came back to the Regents Park idea, surely other people must do that too?
I checked with a couple of other people in the department: “Do you ever do that thing when you’re running when you say you’re going to stop at a certain point then keep going to another point, then another?”
Most recognised the observation.
I went through the draw of Douglas Brothers photography in the basement to find a shot I could use in a mock-up.
I found one that kind of worked if I retouched out the cars.
I thought it looked good.
I started winding myself up, “I run, he doesn’t run. Also, I’m Head of Art, can’t he take my word on one poxy ad? I’ve art directed all his ones about poetry and dreaming. What’s the point of being here if he’s not going to listen to a word I say?”
I rarely argued with Tim, I thought he’s the boss, if I don’t like what he says I should work somewhere else.
This time, I’d worked myself up into a lather.
I queued up outside his office.
By the time I got to his office I was ready for a fight.
“Yeah…it’s about this ad…I think we should run it…”
“Because you don’t even…what?”
I left furious, I’d wasted hours winding myself up for a fight only to get a five second meeting.
But the ad had gone through.
I then had to figure out how to make it work in the campaign layout.
The problem was that the idea wasn’t really a headline.
If the words got smaller as they went on it would help the idea, but wouldn’t fit the style.
Also, the copy. It didn’t really need any.
Not sticking to the campaign format seemed a cop-out, like failing, and it’d be breaking from a very successful campaign, they’d all got into D&AD.
BUT…the idea didn’t work in that format.
So I changed the layout.
I then changed the colour from muted and pastelly to bright, flaming red.
To make it look hot and sweaty.
At the last-minute I put a very heavy vignette around the image to focus the eye down the street, as if the runner had tunnel vision and could only focus on the point they were trying to get to.
The others I did seemed a bit ady by comparison.
I can’t remember now whether it was a request from the client for more colourful images or The Douglas Brothers requesting to be allowed to experiment with colour, but we went full colour, Tim chipped in this one:
And I started trying to get into that runner’s mindset with my brand new writer; Sean Doyle.
This was a good idea:
Then a bit later in the magazine it appeared again.
But, it was felt “Runners don’t watch films like that.”
We went back to our office to imagine what films Tim thought runners were watching: Marathon Man? Chariots Of Fire? Cool Runnings? Midnight Run? The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner?
We made this one twice, this version for the countries considered sophisticated:
And this one for the less sophisticated parts of the globe:
…ended up looking like this:
We had a few goes at the headline on this one too.
I was getting a bit cocky at the time and had given an outdoor moving shot to an indoor still life guy; Mark Mattock.
Horrifically, rather than let the runner run then find the shots, he’d find the shot the pose the runner in action pose with the frame.
In some he looked like he’d had been retouched in from a disco dancing shoot.
This was the only frame that didn’t look like he was posing.
For some reason we got dragged back to original yellow and green type ads when we started running ads in the U.S.
The thoughts were much more aggressive and bombastic, maybe we thought Americans aspired to that?